London Wanderings: Dinner At Chai Naasto, Hammersmith

Last year I could barely eat. I certainly couldn’t eat anything spicy. So when Chai Naasto dropped their menu through my door one day, it felt tantalisingly cruel.

I waited. And I waited. And I waited. And eventually I was allowed to eat spicy food again, so HP and I took ourselves there last week and had a wonderful time. 

I mean, just look at the menu.

The reviews online were mixed, and most of the bad things people had said were about the service. However, most of the negative reviews were from when the restaurant first opened, so perhaps they were just finding their feet. Certainly the service when we were there was perfectly adequate; our waitress was a little ditzy, but then so am I.

There was also a little bell to ring when you wanted something:

It felt a bit rude to press the Dinggly, and yet we were both desperate to try it. Neither one of us can resist shiny buttons, and this one was called a Dinggly! It was like we’d named it ourselves.

We went in the early evening, both of us having forgotten to eat normally that day, so we were famished by the time we sat down. We were then presented with a level of choice that seemed overwhelming. Not only were there the normal dishes, there was also a special winter menu, and then of course the drinks menu.

Between 5pm and 7pm it’s happy hour, which means if you buy a cocktail (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) you can have the same cocktail for free. This presented a bit of a dilemma because I didn’t like the sound of any of the alcoholic ones, not really being a cocktail person, but HP agreed to try a non-alcoholic one with me and they were excellent.

The decor is cozy, lots of reds and yellows and little lights. This made it very nice to eat in but not very Instagrammable. But we were there to eat, not to take photographs. 

The story behind the restaurant is heartwarming: three brothers wanting to share their grandmother’s cooking with the world. You can read more about it here – it sounds like she was a fascinating (and very well-travelled!) woman and the brothers’ goal is to keep her legacy alive, while also giving back to the community.

Feeling a bit confused by the sheer number of options on the menu, we asked the waitress how many things each person should order. “Maybe three little plates, plus one big one, and some sides?” she replied. Then she went away and we carried on staring at our menus. I had no idea what I wanted. Neither did HP. We were tired and hungry and this was all too much choice.

In the end one of us – I forget who – suggested that we just order a few little plates, then if we were still hungry after that we could order a big one between us. This turned out to be an excellent plan, because the little plates were very filling and there’s no way we could have fitted in a big one as well. Not to mention dessert. I still need to go back to try the white chocolate samosa and brownie chaat.

We ordered the battered crispy kale, the spiced potato cakes, the chilli cheese bites, the broken samosas, the bhaji fondue, the pani puri shots, and the popcorn chicken. We ate about 3/4 of this in the restaurant, then we both decided we were about to explode so we took the rest home.

Everything was beautifully presented, although the table wasn’t really big enough for the tapas-style dining we’d opted for, but we made do. The fondue came in a pot with a little candle, which made me very happy. We quickly discovered that dipping the chilli cheese bites into the fondue was heavenly, even if you could feel your arteries trying to explode as it went down.

HP loved the kale and the samosas; I wasn’t a huge fan of the kale because my body doesn’t seem to like anything that’s been battered nowadays. I loved the pani puri shots and the chicken. We both liked everything; there wasn’t anything we regretted ordering.

Now, of course, I want to go back and try the rest of the menu, especially the white chocolate samosa dessert. And maybe even a cocktail if I’m feeling adventurous.

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